Should NOLA Parents be More Supportive of the White Teachers that Teach their Children?
Let me begin by stating that I am a strong proponent for having more teachers that are representative and reflective of the population that it serves. I believe race match is a significant and valuable contributor to student performance and success.
Translation: black teachers + black kids = potentially more support and opportunities.
But in the city of New Orleans, this is not our reality. Until school talent search teams employ recruitment methods that better address the issue of limited black teaching staff, this will be our reality for some time.
The NOLA public school system has had its struggles and discussions were in place to revamp the district, but when Katrina happened in 2005, the revamp was expedited. NOLA students needed schools and charters became the answer. In the process, teachers were fired or displaced. This made charter schools both the hero and the villain at the same time.
Personally, as a black staff member of a NOLA charter school, the conversations on charter schools and non-black teachers is one of nuance. One of the reasons I wanted to work in a school within my city was because I didn’t see many staff members that looked like me during my school visits as a Mental Health Professional and I was concerned; I was confused about this. From the complaints I would often hear from parents and community members, so were they.
The nuance, however, comes into play for me because while I stand firm that a stronger black presence is necessary within the city’s schools, I can honestly appreciate the contributions of a lot of my white colleagues. I know they have good intentions and they offer support comparable to their black counterparts. But for many of our families, this is not good enough. Unfortunately, for a lot of our transplant teaching professionals, a lot of negative experiences (harsh discipline practices, high turnover, etc.) and cultural differences have made the generalization of white teachers in the city’s public schools an unfavorable one.
As stated in an article from The Hechinger Report focused on the city’s loss of black educators:
Pre-Katrina New Orleans schools were a bit of an anomaly. In 2003, just 15 percent of teachers in large urban districts across the country were black. But in New Orleans, teaching was largely a job done by black women: 71 percent of teachers were black and 78 percent were women. The demographics of the city’s teacher workforce have changed drastically since: By 2014, black teachers comprised a little less than half of the city’s teacher corps.
From my perception, a lot of the city’s population that was part of the school system before Katrina simply miss the ties between their schools, teachers, and the communities where they lived. There’s a disconnect and a lost legacy between a lot of schools and communities and race compounds this disconnect.
A recent (2017) study conducted by Johns Hopkins University concluded that low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.
Assistant Professor Nicholas Papageorge added:
We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys. It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”
The conclusion of this research is common sense to me, but I understand that data is needed to implement systemic change – or at least start the dialogue for it. This data also serves as a stark reminder that such an experience and opportunity may not present itself to the approximate 87% of African American students enrolled in the New Orleans’ charter schools. This is especially concerning given that the Louisiana Department of Education also reports the percentage of New Orleans students who are economically disadvantaged is greater today than before Hurricane Katrina (92% of enrollment at RSD charter schools, 86% at OPSB direct-run schools, and 59% at OPSB charter schools). Knowing what is versus what our students need according to research is the work and responsibility of school leaders and networks. If we know what inputs will produce more favorable outcomes, skirting around this issue is dangerous.
But for now, if it isn’t a young, 22 year old from the midwest that relocates to the city to teach your child, then who will? The fact is we don’t have enough black educators within our city’s schools and because of organizations like Teach for America, New Orleans has become the place to be for new teachers looking to find out if they have what it takes “to disrupt inequality and understand the systemic problems that need solving.”
And as stated in a publication from Education Week following the Johns Hopkins study, “What’s at stake now is how education reformers choose to respond…We must make the recruiting and retaining of black teachers a top priority.” But, until we see the changes(and we know it will take some time), school leaders owe it to everyone to ensure that its teaching staff is both well prepared before and well supported throughout their time working with students and their families. Not just academically prepared, but culturally prepared. Because what good is great content, if the speaker can’t connect with its’ audience?
As my son enters Pre-K and will have a non-black teacher (whom I adored during our first meeting) as his first introduction to school, I know, we as parents need to increase our presence within our children’s learning and school environments to challenge practices and systems that perpetuate the failure our educational system has seen for generations. Rather than sit in the negative and pessimistic mindsets that have plagued us about the shifts in our teaching culture, our increased collaboration with schools will allow us to be able to witness and communicate more appreciation and support for the white teachers and staff that demonstrate to our children the love they would want for their own. Because despite the negative generalizations that exist, valuable and nurturing white teachers do exist too.